Recently, while doing a TV interview about my upcoming book, the interviewer seemed stumped when I said both men and women had the same sex hormones. He made me repeat the sentence.
“What do you mean?” he said. “I never heard of that. Don’t men have testosterone and women estrogen?”
Of course, the answer is yes. But it’s yes to both men and women. We all have estrogen and testosterone, and even the hormone produced after ovulation, progesterone.
The difference between men and women is that we don’t make these sex hormones in the same quantities, pulses, or cycles. Men have a lot more testosterone and women have a lot more estrogen and progesterone. But we all need all three of these so-called “sex” hormones to be a real man or a real woman.
Yes, the dance of these sex hormones — their rise and fall and interaction — along with oxytocin and other lesser-known hormones, steers our sexuality, including the desire for romance, mating, and just plain getting close to another human being. On the other hand, imbalance these hormones can throw us into troughs of depression and lead to loss of libido. It’s as simple as that.
Okay, maybe not that simple … but pretty close.
When our estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone levels are in perfect balance, and when we make pheromones (another type of hormones that attracts us to each other sexually) we’re able to continue our quest for a something as difficult as true love or as simple as having sex.
But there are other complicating factors I’d like to remind you of. Our culture is full of complicating factors when it comes to how we interpret and express sexuality in everyday life.
For one thing, we live in a youth-obsessed culture. As a result, we tend to gauge our sexuality by what young people do or say on the pages of magazines or in social and visual media. We are encouraged to believe sex and youth are one and the same, and that a marriage based on lots of sex in our 20s is the ideal. And then by our 60s, when the hormones are long gone and the kids have left home, we will end up looking at the stranger across the table and wishing we could desire him or her the way we did decades ago.
The truth is that things don’t work out that way — at least not most of the time.
As we get a bit older and relationships evolve — when, for instance, kids stop us from paying attention to each other as couples — we start a slow but definite decline in our sexual drive. After all, getting caught in the act by a five-year-old, staying up all night with a vomiting seven-year-old, or waiting for teenager to come home at curfew are not exactly ways to increase our sex drive kindle romance.
So what do we do? We fake it. We lie to friends and family and make believe that everything is fine. Basically we hope that things will work out and that our marriages and sexuality will survive. That’s the course most of us take. We saw our parents do it and we took path.
The lucky couples put the kids and their busy lives on the back burner at least once a week for a date night, and keep on having sex and chasing each other around the house. Good for them.
It’s not all about hormones, though. It’s about life and culture and what I like to call “our own personal truths.” If you listen to yourself, and have been working honestly at making your relationship work — staying romantic, caressing and hugging and yes, having sex — you will probably keep the passion going. And the intimacy will last. You may even live to celebrate your 60th anniversary — then go home and get back between the sheets even if it only is for a cuddle and sleep.
Keep in mind that while sexuality starts with the hormones when we are teens, and stays with hormones for about four decades, it’s also about commitment, love, intimacy, and just holding each other close and tight while the vicissitudes of life attack you.
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